Measurement as a Fluid Concept - What Scientific Term or Concept ought to be More Widely Known?
By Lily Hupfel ('20)
The concept of measurements should be more widely known. Before I learned about measurements in my 10th-grade chemistry class, I, like most others, believed that they were accurate and final. Much to my dismay, I learned that they are not at all. Measurements are nothing but a made up concept to help humans put things in context and understand things more deeply. For example, everyone knows their height and weight, but what does 5’5 and 135 lbs even mean? The truth is it means nothing, we just made it up in order to compare and describe things. When I first learned this I was somewhat upset because I felt as if I could never really figure out what size anything was. I don’t know where I thought measurements came from, if not from humans, but I definitely thought that somehow they were more final and real. Humans base so many things on measurements that I believe this fact is relevant to everyone. In some cases, the standards for the measurements we rely on so heavily are changing. For instance, the physical standard for the kilogram is actually changing weight. The reason for this weight change is somewhat unknown but the best guess is that it is due to excess cleaning or off-gassing. That means that every measurement ever taken using kilograms is inaccurate because the definition of a kilogram is always changing. If the only physical standard for the kilogram is changing weight then what it means for something to be a kilogram has changed. No matter how accurate your measurement is at the moment in a few years it could be completely off. This goes to show that no matter how accurate or precise we think the measurements we are taking are, there is no real standard. After I found out about the kilogram debacle I came to another odd conclusion: if everyone is using the same slightly off measurement doesn’t that measurement become the new standard? In other words, if everyone is using the same measurement for a kilogram it doesn’t matter if it is slightly off from the physical standard. This shows how flexible and easily changed our system of measurement can be. In the world of science, the uncertainty of measurements can make a big impact. For instance, this changing standard can make it so that not all scientist are using the same measurements which takes away the whole point of having measurements in the first place. Measurements are supposed to be a universal form of understanding but if everyone begins to use slightly different measurements for the same thing the universality of it goes away and it becomes almost pointless. I don’t think many people think about measurements or where they came from even though we use them so often. I think it is important to learn more about things we rely on so heavily which is why more people should become familiar with the concept of measurements.